September 2005 (Part 3)


Shaolin Kungfu

Shaolin Kungfu first evolved from the set of Shaolin chi kung exercises called “Eighteen Lohan Hands”. Some kungfu patterns show the connection quite clearly, but most kungfu patterns have evolved over such a long time that the connection is not obvious.

Question 1

What does it means that our phenomenal world is an illusion, the cause of suffering is carving, the teaching came about not from some philosophical reasoning but from the direct experience of the Buddha seeing the illusory nature of the phenomenal world in his deep meditation, and from the experience of people who suffered due to failure to satisfy their desires!?

— Hugo, Sweden


Our phenomenal world is an illusion because different beings see the “same” world differently. What is a table to you may be a whole universe to a bacterium found in it. A fairy who exists at the same place and time but in a different dimension may not see the table at all and floats past it. If the world were objectively or absolutely real, all beings would experience it the same way.

When you are lonely you crave for company. When you fail to have the company you want, you suffer. When the company becomes unruly, you carve for solitude. When you fail to have the solitude you want, you suffer. Had you not carved for the company or the solitude, there would be no suffering.

When the Buddha taught that the phenomenal world is illusory, he did so from direct experience. In his deep meditation when he attained a very high level of consciousness that transcended time and space, he experienced the illusory nature of the world we live in. This teaching is universal. Any being who attains a very high level of consciousness will experience the same illusory nature of the world. This teaching is based on direct experience and not on reasoning or intellectualization.

In contrast, when Plato taught that the perfect form was a circle, he did so from reasoning or intellectualization. He might have some personal experiences where he found the circle the perfect shape, but this was not universal. At other times and other people might find other shapes more favorable than the circle for various particular purposes. A farmer planting crops or a builder building houses might find the square or rectangle more suitable.

The Buddha's teaching on carving as the cause of suffering is confirmed by ordinary people in their ordinary lives. When people carve for something but fail to get it, they suffer. Suppose the train that goes from your town to another town is delayed. If you have nothing to do with the train, the delay does not matter to you. But if you need to take the train to arrive for an important appointment on time, the delay causes you suffering because it fails to satisfy your desire to be on time for your appointment.

At a higher level, if you have sympathy for those who suffer as a result of the delay, you also suffer because it fails to satisfy your desire for other people to be happy. Please note this does not mean that you should not be sympathetic or to be sympathetic would lead to suffering. These are different issues. The issue here is that failure to satisfy craving — for selfish or unselfish desires — leads to suffering.

Question 2

What really is this phenomenal world? I mean if I see an apple that apple is a material thing, right? So how can that be an illusion? I wonder because I believe that all in the universe are some kind of material, and I believe, that even my spirit is material. In fact the most refined material that exists can be a Buddha or God!


This phenomenal world we live in — just as all other phenomenal worlds, including heavens and hells — is a creation of mind. Interestingly, the latest and most hard-core of science is saying the same thing, except that quantum physics refers to the infinitesimally small dimension, whereas the Buddha's teaching applies to all dimensions.

Let us take a simple thought experiment. We know from science that everything in this world is made up of atoms, and that atoms are made up of sub-atomic particles. Now quantum physics has definitively concluded that a sub-atomic particle is actually not a particle; it is a concentration of energy with no boundary. In other words, a sub-atomic particle can be here and everywhere. It becomes a particle when we (or the scientists studying it) conceptualize it as a particle. It becomes energy when we conceptualize it as energy.

It is even more interesting that when we conceptualize it as a particle at point A, it becomes a particle at point A, when we conceptualize it at points B, C or elsewhere, it becomes a particle at points B, C or wherever we conceptualize it to be. As sub-atomic particles are conceptualized to become atoms (please note that the latest science also concludes atoms are not infinitesimally small solids but are concentrations of energy with no physical boundary), and that atoms eventually make up everything in our world, it logically follows that our world is a result of conceptualization, which is another way to say that our world is a creation of mind.

Then, why do we see an apple as an apple? Also why do different people see the same apple as an apple, and not one sees it as an apple, another as an orange, and a third as an insect?

The Buddha explains such a phenomenon as follows. What we experience is conditioned by our “six entries”. The energy that we conceptualize as an apple enters us in six ways, namely through our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind. If these “six entries” are altered slightly, the image (which is actually an illusion) you form from the energy will be changed slightly. If the “six entries” are altered a lot, the change will be a lot. For example, if the lens of your eyes were different from what you have now, you would not see an apple as an apple.

Actually no persons see the same apple as the same apple. Every one sees the same apple differently, but the difference is so minute that all of us would agree that it is an apple. This is because we all have the same “six entries” as human beings. A fish, which has a different set of “six entries” would see and experience an apple very differently.

Whether an apple is a material thing or not, depends on various conditions. In our everyday conditions we humans would regard an apple as a material thing. Quantum physicists working on mathematic tables would view the apple as a mass of energy. A being vibrating in frequencies very different from us may not see the apple at all. So, what we see as an apple is an illusion.

To say that it is an illusion does not mean that it is not there but we imagine it is there. It means it does not have absolute reality. Its appearance or illusion is relative to our set of conditions. Scientifically speaking an apple is a mass of energy. Due to the nature of our “six entries” this mass of energy appears to us as an apple. We can also feel and taste it as an apple, but if one or more of our “six entries” are changed even slightly, such as if we are intoxicated, this mass of energy we normally perceive as an apple may not look, feel or taste like an apple.

It is now scientifically accepted that everything in the universe is energy, which means none is any kind of material, although ordinary people due to the limitations of their senses may see it as material.

In everyday context your physical body is material, your spirit is non-material. But in the context of quantum physics or metaphysics, even your physical body is non-material, it is a mass of energy, but due to the limitations of our senses we conceptualize it as material.

The Buddha or God is non-material, although the Buddha may manifest in material form for the sake of humanity in his transformational body as Siddhatha Guatama, and God may manifest in material form for the sake of humanity in his Son as Jesus Christ.

Shooting Arrows

This chi kung pattern from “Eighteen Lohan Hands” called “Shooting Arrow”, demonstrated by Sifu Wong in an old chi kung manual, clearly shows it as the forerunner of the kungfu pattern “One Finger Stabilizes the Empire”.

Question 3

So is the phenomenal world material or not? What is the difference between the phenomenal world and illusion?


Whether the phenomenal world is material or not depends on your mode or level of perception. If you perceive the phenomenal world from the perspective of Newtonian Science, it is material. If you perceive it from the perspective of quantum physics, it is non-material.

If you view the phenomenal world with the eyes of ordinary persons, it is material. If you view it with the eyes of a spiritually awakened being, it is non-material.

The word “phenomenon” comes from a Greek word meaning “illusion”. The “phenomenal world” means the “illusory world”. It is phenomenal or illusory because it does not have absolute or objective reality. If it had absolute or objective reality, it would appear the same to all beings — regardless of whether they are bees, elephants, ghosts, humans or gods. Because it is phenomenal or illusory, it appears differently to different beings. These different beings see the world as different phenomena or illusions.

Question 4

An internet webpage says that Bodhidharma invented the wonderful arts, “The Muscle Tendon Change” and the “Eighteen Lohan Hand Movements”. from Kalarippayattu, a ancient martial art form believed by many historians as probably the oldest still-practiced martial art form in the world. Ancient references suggest that Bodhidharma took this art form to China and imparted it to its monks. This martial art is also believed to have evolved into Kung Fu and other forms of present-day Chinese martial arts. Is this true?


The great Bodhidharma went from India to China to teach Zen (Chan) or meditation to the Shaolin monks in the year 527. As he found the monks weak he taught them two sets of exercises, “Sinew Metamorphosis” (also called “Tendon Changing Classic” by some masters) and “Eighteen Lohan Hands” to strengthen them physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually so that they can better achieve their spiritual goals in Zen.

I do not know whether these two sets of exercises were invented by Bodhidharma or they were taken from some classical Indian arts, such as the martial art of Kalarippayattu. But as “Sinew Metamorphosis” and “Eighteen Lohan Hands” were practiced in the Shaolin Monastery as “chi kung” and not as “kungfu”, I believe these two sets of exercises were taken from yoga, and not from an Indian martial art.

Bodhidharma did not teach any martial art in the Shaolin Monastery. It was later that “Eighteen Lohan Hands” taught by Bodhidharma as chi kung, evolved into “Eighteen Lohan Fist”, which was the prototype Shaolin kungfu set, from which other types of kungfu sets as well as other kungfu styles developed. This evolution of “Eighteen Lohan Hands” into Shaolin Kungfu was engendered by generals who retired to the Shaolin Monastery for spiritual cultivation. On the other hand, Sinew Metamorphosis evolved to become the core of Shaolin Chi Kung.

I also do not know whether Kalarippayattu is the oldest still-practiced martial art form in the world. Long before Bodhidharma, martial arts already existed in China as well as in other countries. The Buddha himself, who lived in India about 2000 years before Bodhidharma, was a great martial artist.

Dancing Crane

”Dancing Crane”, demonstrated here by Sifu Wong in an old chi kung manual, is one of the Eighteen Lohan Hands. It may not be easy to see that a kungfu pattern called “Tame Tiger with Beads” was evolved from it.

Question 5

Is it true that our luminous energy field has existed since the beginning of time, it was one unmanifested light or creation, and will endure throughout infinity, and that the Chinese people didn't know that chi is also going out from the body to all the universe?


Yes, it is true that our luminous energy field is eternal and infinite. In other words it has existed since the beginning of time, has been an undifferentiated light or creation, and will last through out infinity.

The Chinese knew about this fact, and also the fact that chi or energy is going out from our body to all the universe, as well as coming from all the universe into our body. At the phenomenal dimension we and all other beings are constantly exchanging energy with the universe. At the transcendental dimension, there is no differentiation into ourselves, other beings and all other things in the universe. Transcendentally the universe is an undivided unity.

Question 6

When we practice chi kung do we cleanse our chakras like the American shamans do with water using their fingers to cleanse the chakras?


I do not know what American shamans do with their fingers and chakras, but we do not do that in chi kung.

The typical things that chi kung practitioners and American sharmans do are vastly different. Their aspirations, philosophy and mehtods are vastly different too. It would be a big mistake to suggest a relation between chi kung and American sharmanism.

Tame Tiger with Beads

Sifu Wong uses the kungfu pattern “Tame Tiger with Beads” to neutralize Goh Kok Hin's side kick. Could you detect that this kungfu pattern was evolved from a chi kung pattern, “Dancing Crane”, of the “Eighteen Lohan Hands”?

Question 7

I have been taught a little of how to use chi by my Kenpo instructor and I also practice transcendental meditation. Sometimes when I begin to reach a higher level of consciousness I get a mild headache.

— Derek, USA


If you practice meditation regularly and have arrived at a higher level of consciousness, you should feel fresh and pleasant, not painful with a mild headache. If there is pain, you cannot rise to a higher level of consciousness. In principle, it is the same as if you suffer from an illness, you cannot be healthy.

Question 8

Since a young age I have had some minor problems with depression, anxiety, and concentration. Upon reading the question and answer involving how chi can break up a blockage, and pain is experienced, I thought this could be the case.


It is unlikely that you have generated sufficient chi flow from your meditation to clear blockage. It is more likely that during meditation you had irrelevant thoughts, and this could a headache. As you have not practiced chi kung before, it would be easier for you to relieve your headache with some aspirins.

Question 9

I am an inventor, and am considered to be a genius by some of my family, friends, and teachers. Yet I often perform poorly in school because of a lack of concentration, or simply because of my apparent inability to process information quickly. I have shown I am capable of much more than I normally display (I don't mean to sound arrogant). So the question is, could my chi be pushing through and cleaning blockages in my brain creating a headache, or is there another reason?


Being able to concentrate and to process information quickly are some of the common characteristics of a genius. If you do not have these qualities, your family, friends and teachers may have used the term “genius” in some unorthodox ways.

All of us, genius and otherwise, use only a small portion of our potential. If an ordinary person can use more of his potential, he will be better of than a genius who under-uses his.

As mentioned above, I do not think it was chi pushing through your blockage. I would rather think you had caused some blockage during your meditation. This could be caused by your being tensed or having irrelevant thoughts while meditating.


Overview of the Questions-Answers Series

Selected Reading

Courses and Classes